It’s over 80 years since Struggle stalwart Charlotte Maxeke’s death at the age of 65 in 1939 but her work still impacts and her teachings are still used to encourage many, especially women.
Ma Maxeke, believed to be born in the Polokwane district in Limpopo province, was recognised as the first black South African woman to have a college degree, as she graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree from the Wilberforce University in Ohio in the United States in 1903.
Journalist and Maxeke biographer Zubeida Jaffer, who authored Beauty of the Heart – The life and times of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, described her as “a phenomenal woman” and encouraged women to follow in her footsteps using their “God-given gifts” to develop and empower themselves.
Ms Jaffer was the guest speaker at the South African Football Association (Safa) Cape Town Women’s Day event to honour women in football at the Zolani Centre in Nyanga.This year’s Safa’s Women’s Day theme celebrated Charlotte Maxeke and her work to emancipate women.
Ms Jaffer acknowledged that women are not often allowed to fully nurture their gifts. She said even in a democratic country, women are not given opportunities like those of their male partners. However, she said the best thing that democracy has created is that women are more visible in society. “We have made huge progress but it is not enough. Women are still facing violence, crime, rapes …,” she said.
Despite these challenges, she urged women to rise up and recognise their talents and gifts. She praised the women involved in soccer for not sitting around or roaming the streets, saying Ma Maxeke “would have been very proud of you”.
She used Ms Maxeke as an example to encourage women to work hard and be counted in society. “She had a clear vision of her dream. She wanted to get an education to teach young people of her Ramokgopa village. She had to do domestic work in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) but went to school after cleaning. She eventually became a teacher and went overseas to get a degree. Her story is a story that encourages us. If you want to be the best, you must find your teacher,” she told those gathered at the centre hall.
She called on women to empower themselves and she also appealed to both men and women to come together to be stronger.
Elated to have Ms Jaffer at the event, Safa Cape Town deputy president Nomonde Ndyoko said her organisation organised the day to celebrate the tremendous efforts by women and in particular Ms Maxeke in shaping a more equal future.
Ms Ndyoko said Women’s Day is not just an ordinary day, so it should be respected. “We are celebrating women’s victories in the Struggle. We are also here to honour women like Charlotte Maxeke who fought for our struggle. We celebrate all those women who fought for our emancipation,” she said.
Commenting on the question of women in leadership roles and equality with male partners in the workplace, she said “there is room for improvement”.
The celebrations were taken out to the field of play where women’s teams, Green Lovers and Hotspurs, played to mark the significance of the day.
The event was also attended by many Safa officials, including Safa Cape Town president, Bennet Bailey.